Monday, November 15, 2010

Picture Book Biographies: Story Arcs

I've finished the main research phase for my picture book biography. On a bulletin board I've mounted all kinds of photos and illustrations- not just of my subject, but of people he knew and milieus he would have been familiar with. I keep going back to the Internet to look at photos of the places where he lived.

Now the question is: How much of my subject's life will my story cover? Will it be comprehensive enough for children to use in writing biographical reports? If that's the case, I'd need to include details about birth, marriage, homes and death- no matter how unfortunate the circumstances.

Another story arc might cover childhood, through the person's "breakthrough." My book Dreamer from the Village starts with Chagall's birth, and continues til his art is first recognized and becomes popular. On the last page the story fastforwards many years later, to his exhibition at the Louvre when he was on old man.

Some "picture book biographies" treat an even shorter period, perhaps a pivotal episode in childhood (Alan Schroeder's Ragtime Tumpie recalls the first time a very young Josephine Baker appeared on stage.) Other bio's plunge in during a
a fruitful phase of the subject's career (Action Jackson by Jan Greenberg, for example, begins with Jackson Pollack as a practicing artist)

Still others may describe only a few exhilarating moments during a famous person's life (The brief narrative in Home Run: The Story of Babe Ruth by Robert Burleigh covers part of a baseball game). These shorter bio's often include backmatter, sidebars (Peter Sis's Starry Messenger), or other ways of communicating additional information. (In Burleigh's book, this is cleverly done with fact-laden baseball cards.)

The shorter narratives may be written lyrically, so they convey more impact. The young reader may emotionally connect with the subject, and be inspired to learn more about him.

So many possibilities. Once I know the story arc, I'll have to decide on plot points (the acts and then the scenes), plus how much - and what kind- of details/anecdotes to include. The negative space, what is left out, will be as important as what is put in.

Whatever I decide, it's been a great pleasure, over all these months, getting to know the poignant and quirky particulars about "my guy" and his times.

Today's Non-Fiction Monday round up is over at In Need of Chocolate.

A big thanks to California Readers for choosing Tyrannosaurus Math to be in the 2011 California Collection, a recommended choice for school libraries.